Who Is Russell Crowe?
Born on April 7, 1964, in Wellington, New Zealand, Russell Crowe first made a name for himself acting in Australian cinema. He eventually became an international star with projects like L.A. Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator (for which he won an Oscar), A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, while also becoming known for his combustible behavior. Later films included a screen adaptation of Les Misérables, Man of Steel, Noah and The Nice Guys.
‘Blood Oath,’ ‘The Crossing,’ ‘Proof,’ ‘Romper Stomper’
A role in the stage musical Blood Brothers in 1989 led to Crowe’s first feature film, Blood Oath (1990, released in the U.S. as Prisoners of the Sun). His other early films included The Crossing (1990), which marked his first leading role, and The Efficiency Expert (1991, released in the U.S. as Spotswood), with Anthony Hopkins and Toni Collette.
His breakthrough roles showcased two very different sides of Crowe—in 1992’s Proof, he played a gentle, gullible dishwasher, earning an Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actor; he won the Best Actor statue the next year, for his turn as a brutal Nazi skinhead in the controversial film Romper Stomper. His next and equally iconoclastic role was as a gay plumber living with his widowed father in The Sum of Us (1994).
‘The Quick and the Dead,’ ‘Virtuosity’
In 1995, Crowe made his American film debut, appearing with Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Leonardo DiCaprio in the offbeat Western The Quick and the Dead. That same year, he played SID 6.7, a virtual reality outlaw created as a composite of more than 150 serial killers who is hunted by Denzel Washington in the sci-fi thriller Virtuosity. He also took the romantic leads in the little-seen films Rough Magic (1995), opposite Bridget Fonda, and Breaking Up (1997), with Salma Hayek.
Though some insiders pegged him as “one to watch,” Crowe didn’t truly capture the attention of American movie-goers until L.A. Confidential, the highly acclaimed 1997 neo-noir film that probed the dark underside of Los Angeles in the 1950s. Crowe played the brutal, forthright cop Bud White, one of a trio of very different policemen—the film also starred Kevin Spacey and fellow Australian Guy Pearce—who stumble upon a twisted and murderous conspiracy. Crowe’s simmering performance, including steamy love scenes with co-star Kim Basinger, earned him rave reviews.
Crowe’s first starring role of 1999 came in Mystery, Alaska, a poorly received comedy written by David E. Kelley and co-starring Burt Reynolds. He had a good deal more success with his next film, The Insider, based on the true story of an ex-tobacco company executive, Jeffrey Wigand, who is convinced by a TV news producer to blow the whistle on the powerful tobacco industry.
Despite mediocre returns at the box office, The Insider, which was directed by Michael Mann and also starred Al Pacino, garnered major critical praise. Crowe’s intense, Oscar-nominated performance as the reluctant Wigand was arguably the most remarkable aspect of the film; the actor gained 35 pounds for the role and was nearly unrecognizable in a thinning gray wig.
Oscar Win for ‘The Gladiator’
In 2000, Crowe vaulted to A-list Hollywood stardom with his charismatic performance as a Roman general turned vengeful slave in Gladiator, the ambitious Roman epic and blockbuster summer hit directed by Ridley Scott and co-starring Joaquin Phoenix. The film garnered 12 Academy Award nominations, including a second straight Best Actor nod for Crowe. On Oscar night in March 2001, Crowe beat out Hollywood stalwart Tom Hanks, among others, to take home the Oscar. Gladiator won in five categories, including the night’s biggest honor, Best Picture.
Also in 2000, Crowe starred in the romance/adventure Proof of Life, as a hostage negotiator who becomes romantically entangled with his client, played by Meg Ryan, after her husband is kidnapped. (The film, like The Insider, was based on an article published in Vanity Fair.)
‘A Beautiful Mind’
In 2001, Russell Crowe starred in A Beautiful Mind, an acclaimed biopic about the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. The film, directed by Ron Howard, co-starred Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly. For the third year in a row, Crowe’s bravura performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
‘Master and Commander,’ ‘Cinderella Man’
After Crowe’s lead role in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), he and Howard teamed up again for the boxing drama Cinderella Man (2005) about Jim Braddock, the Depression-era pugilist who defeated heavyweight champ Max Baer in a 15-round bout.
Other releases for the decade included A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007), Body of Lies (2008)—all three of which were directed by Ridley Scott as well—and State of Play (2009).
‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Les Misérables’
Crowe reunited with Scott for the fifth time in the director’s 2010 adaptation of Robin Hood, which co-starred Cate Blanchett. After being featured in 2012’s martial arts flick The Man With the Iron Fist, the actor put his singing chops to use in the musical Les Misérables, released in December. The Oscar-nominated Tom Hooper film, co-starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, saw Crowe portraying obsessed constable Javert.
‘Man of Steel,’ ‘Noah,’ ‘The Water Diviner’
Crowe’s next major roles came in 2013 with the winter release of Broken City, in which he portrayed a mayor up for reelection, and the summer release of Man of Steel. Directed by Zack Snyder, Steel retells the story of Superman, starring Henry Cavill in the title role and Crowe as his Kryptonian father, Jor-El.
In 2014, Crowe dove back into big-budget fare with the biblical Noah, before doing an about-face with The Water Diviner, his directing debut, about a father searching for his sons in Europe after World War I. Fathers and Daughters (2015), with Seyfried, also showcased the actor in a complex role.
‘The Nice Guys,’ ‘The Mummy,’ ‘The Loudest Voice’
Crowe’s next effort, as an enforcer alongside Ryan Gosling in the action comedy The Nice Guys (2016), was generally well received. He was unable to do much to help the reboot of The Mummy (2017), which drew mostly poor reviews, though the actor fared better with Boy Erased (2018), as the father of a teenager placed into gay-conversion therapy.
Turning to the small screen, Crowe took on the role of Fox News founder Roger Ailes in the summer 2019 Showtime series The Loudest Voice.
Early Years and Career
Russell Crowe was born on April 7, 1964, in Wellington, New Zealand. His family moved to Sydney, Australia, when Crowe was four years old. He spent a good deal of time on the sets of various film and television productions, where his parents worked as caterers; at age six, Crowe was cast as an orphan in the TV series Spyforce, the first of his many small parts as a child actor.
His family returned to New Zealand in 1978, and Crowe began performing as a rock singer, billing himself as Rus le Roc and recording the prophetically titled 1980 single “I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando.” During this period, he and a friend formed Roman Antix, which later evolved into 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, a rock band for which Crowe served as a singer, guitarist and songwriter.
Crowe returned to Australia in the early 1980s to pursue his acting career, winning a role in a production of the musical Grease in 1983. From 1986 to 1988, he starred in a touring production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Altercations and Bad Boy Reputation
Widespread rumors about Crowe’s brash personality increased with his growing fame in the 1990s. In late 1999, he was reportedly involved in a brawl outside a bar in New South Wales, Australia. The owner of the bar, who claimed to have a security videotape that showed the actor had initiated the brawl, was subsequently charged with blackmail after allegedly attempting to extort money from Crowe in exchange for the video.
Crowe’s bad boy reputation and smoldering on-screen intensity inspired comparisons to the young Brando. However, although he is reportedly demanding while working on set, a number of co-stars have publicly praised him for his charming, professional demeanor.
On the more bizarre side, news broke in early 2001 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had launched an investigation into a rumored plot to kidnap Crowe. He attended the January Golden Globes ceremony flanked by FBI agents in tuxedos and was guarded by Scotland Yard at the London premiere of Proof of Life the following month.
In addition to the 1999 bar fight in Australia, Crowe was reportedly involved in a bathroom brawl in a trendy London restaurant in 2002. Three years later, he was arrested and charged with second-degree assault after throwing a telephone at a hotel employee in New York City.
Crowe began a long-term relationship with Australian singer/actress Danielle Spencer while the two were filming The Crossing in late 1989.
During the summer of 2000, Crowe became romantically involved with his Proof of Life co-star, Meg Ryan, and was mentioned as a factor in her separation from her husband of nine years, actor Dennis Quaid. However, Crowe and Ryan split in late December of that year.
Crowe later reignited his romance with Spencer. They married in April 2003 and had two sons, Charles and Tennyson, before announcing their split in 2012.
In April 2018, before his legal separation from Spencer was finalized, Crowe held his “The Art of Divorce” auction to rid himself of “about 3 rooms full of things I will no longer have to care for, document, clean, tune and insure.” Live-streamed on Facebook, and including such sought-after items as the actor’s groin-protector from Cinderella Man and a dinosaur skull purchased from DiCaprio, the auction reportedly netted Crowe a cool $2.8 million.